Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Poetry from Yours Truly

I'm very honored to be July's Selected Poet over at The Horror Zine. I hope you will click on the link and head over for a look. Thanks to Jeani Rector and all the good folks over there. I much appreciate their efforts. 

There are three poems, "River of Love's Dreaming," "Recipe for Disaster," and "Serpent Rain." I always construct notes about the evolution of stories I write, and sometimes I do this for poems, although in less detail. For what it's worth, here are the notes for these three poems below. 

A River of Love’s Dreaming: Started in 2016. I was very happy with my poem R.O.A.D, River of Angels Dreaming, and so I decided to try something else in a similar vein. I don't think it's as good but I was pleased with it overall. 

Recipe for Disaster: After reading some great poetry by Bruce Boston, I tried to create a similar kind of poem and this very short piece came out. I wrote an alternate version too and showed both to my writing group in 2016. They liked this the best. Bruce actually read this and gave me a suggestion for it, but it was already submitted at that point and so I wasn't able to incorporate his suggestion. If there's ever a collection that small change will be made. 

Serpent Rain: Written in 2010 but I don’t remember much about it. That was a very stressful year. A lot of losses. I suppose it felt a bit like I was being punished and was hoping for forgiveness. 

Thanks to everyone for visiting. 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Raymond Chandler: Killer in the Rain

Just finished reading Killer in the Rain by Raymond Chandler. This is a short story but it was given a kind of standalone novella treatment by Modern Classics. You can see the cover below.

As I was reading this one I tried to pay close attention to Chandler's style, to see if could pick up on what makes him such an original and so often imitated. First let me say I really enjoyed the story. It captivated me as I read along. But what were the elements that lead to that captivation?

First, Chandler's writing is very simple and straightforward. There is very little poetry in his prose, unless one considers a certain starkness to be poetical. Second, the work reads like it was written quickly and was not revised very much, although I have no idea if that is actually true. I say that because I found various places where Chandler reused the same word in the same sentence or paragraph. I often do that in first drafts but usually try to change it as I revise. Third, there is almost no description of the natural world other than an occasional visual given of the sky or of rain. There is, however, a fair amount of description of man made objects within the story, such as the drapes or automobiles.

I found these three points interesting because, normally, I would say that I didn't like the way Chandler does them. I love poetical writing. I like polished prose. I love descriptions of nature and dislike descriptions of man-made materials. Chandler worked against all three of my preferences here, but I still enjoyed the read.

One might say, well, "Story is King." But the story here is not that compelling either. Basically, a mobster's girl is stepping out on him and he hires our "shamus" to take care of it. There's a couple of murders and a blackmail scheme, a couple of dames and a lot of whiskey. There's an hysterical woman who has to be slapped out of it. None of these are particularly compelling plot lines, although they certainly would have been much less predictable when this work was originally published.

The upshot of my analysis here is anticlimactic. I don't know why this booklet worked so well for me. Maybe other's have thoughts.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

A Bookshelf of Inspiration

Reading has been a major inspiration for me throughout my life. Not only an inspiration for my own writing, but for life in general, for whatever philosophy I claim, for my career in academia, for the way I try to treat others. It would require many blog posts to list all the books and stories that have influenced me, but I can show you pictures of those works that have stuck with me the longest and which I continue to this day to pick up periodically and peruse.

First up are three books that reflect both my love of nature and of beautiful writing. All of these are nonfiction. The Snow Leopard, by Peter Matthiessen is my favorite work of all time.  I have multiple copies, and keep one at home and one at school. Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez is hallucinogenically beautiful. And Walden, by Thoreau! Nuff said.

Next, I didn’t discover Fitzgerald’s translation of Homer until college but when I did, I fell in love and memorized long sections of it. Some of those I still recall.  I didn’t discover The King in Yellow by Robert Chambers until grad school, but when I started writing Chambers’ work was right there with me, particularly a section of flash pieces called “The Prophet’s Paradise,” sections of which I also memorized.

Inspiration comes for me from every kind of work and every type of writer. The opening to Jitterbug Perfume is just about the most perfect piece of writing I’ve ever seen. House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday beings with another of those hallucinatory passages that fires my imagination. And Teot’s War by Heather Gladney is a gorgeously written fantasy novel.

Ernest Hemingway is the only writer with two books on my inspiration shelf. The Short Stories contains some absolute jewels of Hemingway’s work, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” “The Short Happy Life of Francis MaComber,” among them. But the piece simply headed by “Chapter V” on page 127 is a thing of beauty.  A Moveable Feast is not on my shelf because of particularly beautiful writing, but because it contains the best advice on writing and on being a writer that I’ve ever read.

Finally, we have two very different types of works. Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of the Species” is one of the best written scientific arguments ever produced, and it certainly helped inspire in me an interest in science and reason. The other book here, which you can’t see the title on, is a near polar opposite to Darwin. It is the Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas. I thought I disliked poetry until I read this book late in college. This made me realize that I wanted a sense of poetry to be at the heart of everything I did.

So tell me, what books have inspired you?

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Summer Book Project

Every summer when I'm off teaching I tend to take on a project related to my books. In the past, this might just mean a good cleaning. Sometimes it means rearranging my shelves. Sometimes I get all my boxed books out and go through them for gems before reboxing them. This year I'm doing something different, and probably more time consuming. I'm going to take photographs of my entire collection, at least of the ones I've read.

I see people posting pictures constantly on facebook of their books and I never had any to post. I"d have to download a pic from the net if I wanted a cover image for this blog. But now that's going to change. I'll have a complete photo record of all my books available to me to post. Since I do various articles on books as well, this will also be helpful there.

Although this has already proven to be time consuming, I'm really having fun doing it. My books still bring me pleasure in so many ways, even if I'm not reading them at any given moment. Here are some pics I've taken so far. I'm sharing a lot more on Facebook.

1: I am the only person I know who collects Ken Bulmer, a British paperback writer who penned 100s of works under many different names. Here are some books under a few of his pseudonyms:

And here is my favorite anthology of all time. Maybe more than any other, this one made me want to write interplanetary adventure fiction!

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Bane of Kanthos

I'd originally planned to put this up officially for Forgotten Books Friday but I got busy and have been thinking about my son's wedding, which is coming up tomorrow. Anyway, I recently heard about this book on facebook and ordered a copy. I was pleasantly surprised. There is a newer kindle edition of this work but I read the original 1969 edition, which was part of an Ace Double with Kalin by E. C. Tubb. I'd already read Kalin in another format.

The Bane of Kanthos is a sword and planet novel, in the tradition of ERB's Barsoom series. An earthman is transported to what appears to be an alternate world via passage through a black gate. He discovers that the world is at risk from a great, reawakened evil, and that he is the only one who can save it. There are staunch allies, nasty villains, and a beautiful warrior-princess. All these tropes are familiar, but I enjoy them. What raised this book a little above the standard level for me was the fine writing. I thought the author's word usage and prose choices were excellent ones.

On Goodreads, there is an indication that the author, Alex Dain, has planned to write more stories about this world. The kindle edition is listed as: Book 1 in the Chronicles of the Gates. However, the kindle edition was published in 2013 and nothing new has appeared from Dain since. That would seem to make it unlikely that he is going to continue the series, although I'd certainly be interested in a sequel.

Even if nothing else appears in the series, I still think this one is worth a read for fantasy fans, particularly fans of sword and planet fiction.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Writing: Organic versus Manufactured

I had a discussion with a friend about writing the other day that I thought might make a worthwhile blog topic. It has to do with the differences between a piece of writing that grows organically and one that is constructed instead. Here’s my thoughts.

For me, poetry and flash fiction (750 words or less) usually grow organically. What I mean is that I have a seed of an idea, start writing, and let my unconscious guide me through. I don’t plan it, although oftentimes in revision I’ll make conscious changes to improve the piece. This is not, however,  the way, I write short stories, anything over 1500 words. Short stories are “constructed.” They are manufactured.  Although, if I do my job well the seams and welds in the story are invisible to the reader.

Now, my short stories often start out organically. They begin with a germ of an idea and the first 500 to 1000 words are often written straight out of that germ. But short stories have to have plot, and the unconscious typically only generates simple, straightforward plots. Those stories have already been told too many times. By the time I’m a 1000 words into a story I’m already engaged in the conscious work of building the piece to meet specific goals.

An analogy is this. A poem or flash fiction piece—at least for me—is like a wild fruit tree springing up seemingly out of nowhere. A short story is a carefully pruned and constrained fruit tree that has had many new limbs grafted onto it for specific reasons. Even the first 1000 words get this treatment. And I don’t just go through pruning and grafting once, but many times. The original seed is usually so hidden by the additions that it is scarcely noticeable

“Conscious” writing is immensely harder than just letting it all flow, but it does have its own rewards. One is that you have, in fact, built something with your own two hands.  And the final product is no longer all about  the writer.  It’s at least as much about the reader, if not more.  I believe this is one reason why it’s both difficult and dangerous to draw conclusions about writers themselves from the stories they construct. Just because a writer explores a negative theme does not mean that he or she is drawn to that theme. A writer’s characters and plot twists do not necessarily reflect the writer’s personal feelings and fixations.  Speaking for myself, although some part of me is in every story I write, I am not those stories.